Grilling is a fun thing to do. But cooking animal flesh over a hot open flame has risks. Scientists have been warning us about the cancer-causing compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that form when cooking animal flesh over high heat, which is common when barbequing. These chemicals – the same chemicals that are found in cigarette smoke – have been shown to cause cancer.
If you are going grill, is there a solution; a way to avoid filling your body with HCAs? There are a number of “tricks” that may reduce the risks posed while barbequing, either by interfering with the creation of HCAs or inactivating them once they’re formed. For example, precooking a hamburger patty for two minutes in a microwave before barbequing reduces heterocyclic amines by a whopping 90 percent, according to research. Adding vitamin antioxidants to the meat or marinating it in antioxidant-rich spices before cooking appears to work almost as well.
Marinades – old-style tomato-based barbecue sauces actually increase heterocyclic amine production, while marinades like teriyaki sauce reduce heterocyclic amines produced during cooking by half. Those packets of store-bought powder marinades that you add oil and vinegar to also seem to be surprisingly effective.
Several studies suggest that the Lactobacilli strains in yogurt do this, so serving yogurt on or with meat meals provides additional protection because it actually reduces the harmful effects of these chemicals.
The bottom line for anyone who wants to cook meat, whether chicken, beef, pork or anything else on the grill is simple – make sure to marinate all meats before cooking. When cooking ground beef, knead in herbs and/or vitamin E. Stick with skinless chicken if cooking poultry. Always accompany barbecued meat with a yogurt dish and a little alcohol, preferably stout ale; and use a yogurt salad dressing or even something as simple as frozen yogurt for dessert. And, remember that you can cook vegetables on the grill without the danger of heterocyclic amine formation – and increase the nutritional content of your meal at the same time.